39. Bart the Murderer

(originally aired October 10, 1991)
Well, I was originally going to write about how brilliant the show is able to integrate parodies into its universe, in this case seamlessly borrowing plot elements from Goodfellas, but then I read this story was in development right before it came out. So now I can instead praise the genius visionary writers who were able to think quicker than a Scorsese picture. This is a very sharp, clever episode that is both over-the-top and relatively grounded, paying homage to classic mafia films, and of course giving us the great Fat Tony and his associates. Our episode opens with Bart looking forward to a great new day, and then every conceivable thing that could go wrong, does, culminating to him missing out a school trip to the chocolate factory because he forgot his permission slip. It cuts even deeper because how absurdly fun the trip looks, with kids going wild in the factory, some even swimming in the vats of chocolate, while Bart is stuck licking envelopes for hours for Principal Skinner. Just when things couldn’t get much worse, a skateboard accident lands Bart right into Fat Tony’s clutches.

Fat Tony, voiced by Joe Mantegna, is such a wonderful character, the golden archetype for a mafia boss, confident, in-control, subtly controlling, and a champ at playing dumb (“What’s a murder?”) He and his goons take a liking to Bart at their HQ, the Legitimate Businessman’s Social Club (an absolutely brilliant name, by the way), and gives him a part-time job. There’s some great scenes involving his parents’ reactions: from Homer’s obliviousness to Marge’s concern for her son, and for the odd pizza van parked outside their house (her questioning blows their sting operation, only to be replaced with a truck ‘Flowers By Irene.’) There’s also Chief Wiggum breathing down Fat Tony’s neck, in the first episode that fleshes out his character a bit; he’s somewhat competent… but also quite dim (“Fat Tony is a cancer on this fair city. He is the cancer, and I am the… um… What cures cancer?”) Upon hearing Bart complain about his problems with Skinner, Fat Tony decides to pay him a little visit. The next day, Skinner is reported missing. Bart is more than a little concerned, all culminating to a wonderful black-and-white macabre dream sequence. Right when he confronts his employers, they are all arrested.

The third act turns into a bizarre legal drama as everyone throws the blame onto Bart, making it seem like he’s the junior-sized kingpin. The plot turns again where right before sentencing, a disheveled Skinner arrives, alive and well, prepared to divulge the truth. The incredibly ridiculous and stupid scenario of Skinner trapped under piles of newspapers, and his equally ridiculous, MacGyver-esque escape, is something only this show could pull off, thanks to the great writing and Harry Shearer’s completely genuine and serious read. His testimony gets Bart off the hook, and Bart breaks ties with the mob, realizing that “crime doesn’t pay,” as Fat Tony gets into a limo with two cars trailing behind him. This episode keeps building as it goes, from Bart’s bad day to the mafia, then to a potential murder; at this point the show has learned that if it’s going to tackle a large story, it’s go big or go home, and they certainly went big. And funny.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Gotta love Bart and Lisa’s cereals: Lisa is eating Jackie-O’s (with free stretch pants inside), and Bart is having Chocolate Frosted Frosty Krusty Flakes (“Only sugar has more sugar!”)
– I like Bart’s genuine surprise that Santa’s Little Helper actually ate his homework (“I didn’t know dogs really did that.”)
– Troy McClure narrates the video at the chocolate factory, and we get out first “you might remember me from…” line; in this case, McClure cites his great work like “The Revenge of Abe Lincoln” and “The Wackiest Covered Wagon in the West.”
– I love the horse race featuring horses named after classic cartoon catchphrases like “Yabba Dabba Doo” and “I Yam What I Yam.” “Don’t Have A Cow” wins, much to Bart’s benefit.
– I’m surprised they were able to get away with Bart not only working for the mafia, but serving alcohol. The cheat was to not show Bart actually mixing any drinks (with the great shot of him making the Manhattan, but he’s so short you only see his spiky hair over the bar), but I still can’t believe they got away with it.
– Homer walks past Bart’s room, which is literally filled floor-to-ceiling with boxes of cigarettes. Homer walks in, “Bart! Have you started smoking?!” He then picks up a box, takes out a pack, and concludes, “Aha! Just as I thought!”
– The press conference regarding the hijacked cigarette truck (and the jittery smokers itching for a fix) is hilarious, with the great press statement by the head of Laramie: “Folks, I’m pleased to announce that a new truckload of Laramie’s, with their smooth good taste of fresh tobacco flavor is already heading towards Springfield. The driver has been instructed to ignore all stop signs and crosswalks.” The audience cheers.
– Skinner’s reactions to the mob are priceless: when his secretary informs him there are “some large men” here to see him, he retorts, “I don’t have any appointment with any large men.” When Fat Tony and crew enter, he defiantly inquires, “How, may I ask, did you get past the hall monitors?”
– An early Wiggum dumb line: “I can assure you that we’re using the most advanced scientific techniques in the field of… body-finding.”
– Bart’s dream is wonderful, as mentioned, with Lovejoy’s comforting of Bart (“There, there. There, there”) and Homer’s “Kill My Boy” sign.
– Some great Lionel Hutz, of course (“I’ll be defending you on the charge of… Murder One?! Wow! Even if I lose, I’ll be famous!”)
– I do like the very brief commentary by Burns on the episode (“Thank God we live in a country so hysterical over crime that a ten-year-old child can be tried as an adult!”)
– I love the newspaper the day of the sentencing, “Sentencing Today for Dinky Don” featuring a caricatured Bart octopus engulfing Springfield in its tentacles.
– I’d reprint Skinner’s laborious explanation of his whereabouts, but it’s too long, and does no justice to print it with no audio. Just watch the episode, it’s well worth it.

4 responses to “39. Bart the Murderer

  1. I can’t believe you didn’t mention Neil Patrick Harris’ star turn as Bart in the made-for-TV movie about the case! “Not smart.” *blam blam blam* (Also fun is that Joe Mantegna plays Fat Tony in this production.) The follow-up is one of the show’s many digs at their own network: Marge sadly comments that they changed it “just enough” for the family not to get a dime, and Homer grouses about the slimy network executives at Fox.

    (At least, that’s how I remember it. I truly hope I’m correct, because it makes me laugh all over again thinking about it.)

  2. Kind of odd how Seymour lives on his own in this episode (albeit in a house containing “Mother’s delicious preserves”)

  3. One of my top favorites of the entire series. Although, if I did a top 10 list, it would probably end up an honorable mention rather than in the actual 10. Nevertheless, it is just great.

    Watching everything go wrong for Bart feels like a normal occurence, especially one that would happen to a 10 year old. There are just those times when everything seems to be going wrong. I agree that him missing out on the chocolate factory makes everything even the more sweeter.

    Fat Tony is one of my favorite characters in the show, and this was a great introduction for him. Not to mention Joe’s voice is superb for the character. The fact that after Bart met him his bad luck suddenly turned around makes it even funnier. That dream sequence of Skinner’s ghost chasing him is so fantastic with its chilling music and sound effects to the kick ass animation.

    I also love the cigarette stuff as that is taken right out of Goodfellas (as is Bart’s suit). Oh, and of course Lionel Hutz appearing is always a treat.

  4. A fantastic episode and one of my favorites. Fat Tony gets an excellent introduction here and has plenty of memorable lines. My personal favorite from him is his story about stealing cigarettes and eluding it to stealing food for the hungry. There’s other good jokes here, from Homer’s reaction to the cigarettes to Skinner’s story about how he survived, as well as one of my favorite Wiggum lines (“what cures cancer?”). Overall, one of my favorite episodes for sure.

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